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Creek Running North

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September 15, 2005

Were there justice

1.

The bread was too cold, the gazpacho too warm. The service was too slow. He looked at his watch, again and again. "Damn incompetents! I've been waiting for my check for five minutes!"

"It's OK, Steve. It's the lunch rush."

"What do I care? They're making me late for my 1:30. Excuse me! Could I get my god-damn check, please?"

The waitress brought the bill. $38.95. He plunked down two twenties. "Hey, keep the change."

"Anyway, like I was saying," he continued, "I just can't stand the damn liberal finger-pointing. Why the hell didn't they leave? They decided to stay, I don't see why we should have busted our asses to rescue them. It's that whole culture of dependency. We've bred generations of people who can't even save their own goddamn lives. It's like 'save us, save us!'"

"But Steve, some of those people were really poor!"

He dismissed his sister's objections with a wave. "Then they aren't my damn problem. This society has winners and it has losers, and you get to pick..."

He paused, let forth a belch.

"Sorry. I don't know how that happened. You get to pick which you'll be, a winner or a loser. It's hard work, is all. And I..."

Another belch, this one louder. A thin, sickly smell floated across the room, a faint scent of gasoline, and was it... sewage? "Damn, I think this place poisoned me. I'm feeling si..."

He vomited, a little at first, a dank foul liquid with a hellish sheen. The gasoline smell grew stronger. He vomited again. It was thick and black, sewage and rotting meat.

His sister gripped the table, moved to stand partway. She stopped. His lips were turning purple, swelling, bursting. He vomited up a styrofoam cup, a diaper, a shingle. His lungs filled with aspirated foulness. He turned blue, then indigo. Gray tears ran down his face. His eyes dimmed, deflated, fell out. The slight wrinkles by his eyes vanished as his skin swelled taut. He fell to the floor, still puking. It just didn't end. His sister ran screaming for help. By the time the EMTs arrived, he was floating face down in two feet of evil-smelling water.

2.

"Owell isn't answering his goddamn phone! His column is due, and I've got a hundred papers on my case!" Carl walked into his office, a quizzical expression on his face. "What was that, Jeff?"

"I can't get Owell. His column is six days late. First he gets me five thousand nasty emails by writing that stuff about the 'savages in the Gulf Coast,' and blaming it all on postmodernism, and now he's jerking me around on deadline."

"Take it easy, Jeff. We still have a couple in reserve. Anyway, I've got his cell in my Palm. Let me see if I can get hold of him."

Carl walked out. He was back before Jeff got to the end of Cal Thomas' latest. He looked pale. "I called Tom's cell, and a cop answered." Carl swallowed. "He drowned. He's dead. They're doing the investigation right now."

After a moment, Jeff closed his mouth. Then shook his head. "OK, see what you can get from the cops, have that new kid pull out his obit and I want you to update it. Jesus fuck. We're gonna have to find some new guy quick, and I think we've already hired every single winger who can write a coherent sentence. God damn it."

Carl wasn't moving. "What?" "Oh. Sorry, it's just weird, him drowning.'

"Do they know how it happened? Was he out on the Bay or something?"

"That's the weird thing," Carl said. "The cop said they found him in his attic."

3.

"Why is this place so quiet?" (Send.)
"What, is the Internet broken or something? LOL."(Send.)
"Hello?" (Send.)

"OK, that's weird. MOM?"

"What, honey?"

"Did you change the filters on the computer or something?"

"No, but maybe your father did. Why?"

"Oh, nothing. I was just trying to chat with the guys on Little Green Meatballs. We were slagging on the hurricane victims yesterday. But no one's answering me today."

"Well, you spend too much time on that computer anyway. Why don't you come out of that basement and go play outside this afternoon? You know Jameel has that new basketball hoop set up in his driveway."

"OK, mom. But I think I need some ginger ale or something. I'm not feeling too good."

4.

"Wait, wait, quiet! Would you turn that thing up?" The television at the end of the bar showed a breaking news graphic. A nervous-looking Fox News intern, hair uncombed, stood in front of the Ellipse. In the background, helicopters hovered over the White House. "We are told that HazMat crews are working in the West Wing. Meantime, we have no word on the condition of the President or the Vice President. We've been unable to reach the Press Secretary."

The in-studio anchor's voice cracked. "Chantelle, can you tell us whether FEMA has been called?"

Chantelle held up her ill-fitting earpiece. "Apparently, Sean, there is a similar event happening at FEMA's offices. We can't - I can't tell you more than that at this time."

The anchor coughed. "Actually, Chantelle, this is Allan. We're having a little trouble finding Sean. Um, Thank you, and keep us posted. We're going to break for a commercial now."

5.

LaVon wiped his forehead with his shirtsleeve. Damn, it was hot today. But hell, he chuckled to himself, if you don't like heat, why live in New Orleans? Now a hundred? That's just too damn hot. But ninety-five is perfect lawn-mowing weather.

"Papa!" Tanya stood on the porch with a pitcher of lemonade. "Are you ready for that snack yet?"

"I am now, lawn's finished." He slumped into the wicker chair.

"Daughter, I have to say I have this lawn lookin' good! Mmm, mmm, mmm." He sipped the lemonade.

"It does look good, Pop. It always look good. Just like my daddy." She kissed his bald pate, sat down next to him.

LaVon chuckled.

"So have they said anything more about the president?"

"Naw, Papa, they still got scientists workin' on it. From what I can read on the Internet, anyway. The news channels are all down, looks like."

"Now that's a damn shame. Those poor people. I feel for them, I really do. I didn't vote for the man, but I feel bad for him."

"I know, Papa, I know." She pulled at her blouse. "It is hot today. Are you gonna water the lawn? The kids could play in the sprinklers."

"Yeah, and track mud all over your mama's floor. I will have to set the sprinklers. I thought we were gonna get a little rain last week."

"It was strange, the way that hurricane just dissolved out there in the Gulf, wasn't it, Papa?"

"Yeah baby, I still haven't got that one figured out."

Posted by Chris Clarke at September 15, 2005 04:47 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.faultline.org/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/1333

1 blog(s) linking to this post:

Poetic Justice
Excerpt: From Creek Running North, tales of poetic justice: “Anyway, like I was saying,” he continued, “I just can’t stand the damn liberal finger-pointing. Why the hell didn’t they leave? They decided to stay, I don’t see ...
Weblog: Frumious Blues
Tracked: September 16, 2005 08:19 AM
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Comments

Ever consider moonlighting for Stephen King?

Posted by: Allison at September 15, 2005 07:11 PM
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More like a cleaner-burning 21st Century Ray Bradbury, I'd say.

Posted by: de Selby at September 15, 2005 08:55 PM
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[Applauding and wishing from your fingertips to God's ears.]

Posted by: ae at September 15, 2005 11:23 PM
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I bow before the awesome majesty of your talent.

Posted by: Nikki (aka Vixen) at September 16, 2005 04:39 AM
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Tremendously well written - thankyou.

Posted by: Barry Price at September 16, 2005 04:40 AM
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Oh, he's funny, the lad.

Thanks for the guffaws. and for the wishful thinking fantasy.

Posted by: Pica at September 16, 2005 07:16 AM
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Oh, that's good, Chris. That's good. If there were justice like that, I might start believing in god again.

Posted by: Stephanie at September 16, 2005 08:39 AM
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Friggin brilliant. I am in awe of your talent. Frederic Brown would be impressed.

Thank you for that.

Posted by: Reba at September 16, 2005 10:49 AM
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Maybe God will hire you to be his screenwriter for next season. I might plug my TV back in.

Posted by: beth at September 16, 2005 11:35 AM
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Bravo.

Posted by: TravisG at September 16, 2005 12:03 PM
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I could get used to comments like these. Thanks, all.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at September 16, 2005 12:16 PM
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I was going to write "good job," at least until I read the comments above, at which point I decided to bust your chops just for the hell of it. Can't have you getting a big head, what with all that praise raining down on you from afar. But then I thought it over again and was taken with the idea of that entire bunch of assholes drowning in the contents of Lake Dubya. So now I'm in a bit of a quandry. Any suggestions? Are you still looking to be sucked up to, or would you rather have you air let out by someone who recognizes your considerable talent?

Posted by: tost at September 16, 2005 03:30 PM
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Oh, tost, you're such a clever fellow: I'm sure you can manage both at once.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at September 16, 2005 03:36 PM
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tost, if you don't mind my two cents, I think you should suck up to Chris, because damn it, he deserves it for that piece. But I think you should find some way to tweak him about religion. I bet you're up to that challenge:)

Posted by: Stephanie at September 16, 2005 03:52 PM
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That's not justice, it's payback. You knew that, of course. But I worry about people who fantasize about the kind of God or government that would sanction just such "justice." It's easy for us to laugh, but it's worth remembering that a vast number of otherwise fine people do think this way - and that such thinking is probably at the root of many of our social ills.

I must admit, however, I too enjoyed an illicit chuckle. Thanks.

Posted by: Dave at September 16, 2005 04:46 PM
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"Were there payback" is not nearly so good a title.

Also, I'm pretty damn tired of always having to be better than they are.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at September 16, 2005 05:05 PM
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I'm trying to think when I have ever been better than they are.

Posted by: Dave at September 17, 2005 09:08 AM
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It's a pacifist double-bind!

Posted by: Chris Clarke at September 17, 2005 09:11 AM
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although i read this post a couple of days ago, i didn't leave a comment because i had no words to say (i am not often speechless). sometimes when one stands in a gallery looking up at a masterpiece, there is nothing to say and the only appropriate response is simply to look with wonder and awe. such is my response to the story.

but i do want you to know that i love the writing and even more the message it conveys.

and thanks to my friend ehj2 at americanconscience for turning me onto what spills from your pen...

Posted by: diana christine at September 17, 2005 10:30 AM
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although i read this post a couple of days ago, i didn't leave a comment because i had no words to say (i am not often speechless). sometimes when one stands in a gallery looking up at a masterpiece, there is nothing to say and the only appropriate response is simply to look with wonder and awe. such is my response to the story.

but i do want you to know that i love the writing and even more the message it conveys.

and thanks to my friend ehj2 at americanconscience for turning me onto what spills from your pen...

Posted by: diana christine at September 17, 2005 10:31 AM
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"Were there payback" is not nearly so good a title.

But an "Instant Karma" reference would have rocked.

Posted by: Captain Slack at September 18, 2005 08:26 AM
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"Oh, tost, you're such a clever fellow: I'm sure you can manage both at once."

Anything for you, pumpkin. Here goes.

Chris,

At the risk of fawning over your writing - and I know you'd prefer that I didn't; it's just not seemly - I have to tell you that your story was exquisite. Only maybe that's not the right word. Perhaps I should say sublime. Or maybe even exquisitely sublime. In any case, you coupled your usual technical prowess with a subtle mystical touch and an O Henry ending to create a masterful modern parable, a powerful moral tale of the dangers of greed and arrogance woven through the heartbreak and hardship of the recent New Orleans disaster. It’s doubtful that anyone reading this exceptional piece of fiction will ever again think of Hurricane Katrina without longing for the “if only it were so” sense of justice revealed in your deft prose. And rereading the piece will no doubt offer ever subtler glimpses into a layered, finely-crafted tale that works on any number of levels. Indeed, in a very real sense, this is a story of biblical proportion, the work of a lifetime, and as such it deserves not only our praise but our heartfelt gratitude.

With many, many thanks,

tost


Posted by: tost at September 18, 2005 01:48 PM
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Sorry, Stephanie, but the religious tweakings will have to wait for another day.

By the way, Chris, my most recent comment aside, it was a hell of a good story and I truly enjoyed it. Well done.

Posted by: tost at September 18, 2005 01:55 PM
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